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Superman: The Animated Series, Episodes 38 & 39 – “Apokolips… Now!”

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Apokalips Now

Story by: Bruce Timm
Written by: Rich Fogel
Directed by: Dan Riba
This episode is dedicated to the memory of Jack Kirby – Long live The King.
Original Airdates: February 7 & 14 1996
DVD: Superman TAS Volume 3

Summary: Darkseid finally makes his move, launching a full-scale attack on Earth. With Metropolis as the front line, Superman is forced into battle to defend his adopted homeworld. One major problem – Darkseid does not take losing well.

Arc Note: Third and fourth episodes dealing with Darkseid and the New Gods.

Debuting Characters: Pretty much every signifcant New God shows up during the course of this one, most of which haven’t been seen before. Look at this screencap that, in any other episode, would have been the above-the-jump image:

Apokolips Now 2

The most prominent debutee is Orion, and Darkseid hench… people… Granny Goodness and Steppenwolf also make their first appearances.

Also, Maggie Sawyer‘s long-time partner, Toby Raynes, makes her first DCAU appearance, which I’m reasonably certain is the first depiction of a gay couple in Saturday Morning animation. It’s neat how matter-of-factly this was handled; you get the feeling that watchdog groups were blissfully ignorant of the characters’ history.

Featured Characters: Dan Turpin *sniff*; this episode marks the conclusion of the “can the SCU hold their own without Superman” subplot.

Background:

There’s no way around it – aside from this being the high point of S:TAS, this story is famous for containing the most significant death in the DCAU TV programmes. So no spoiler protection here: this is the episode where Dan Turpin is killed by Darkseid. So as opposed to actually talking about the background of the characters appearing, I think it’s more appropriate to talk about the making of the episode itself, especially as there’s a LOT of material about this episode, between the Timm interview and the commentary track on Part 2. Timm describes the genesis of the episode:

The “Apokalips Now” story came out of anumber of brainstorming sessions with myself and Paul Dini in particular. We were sitting around, talking about Darkseid – what about him do we want to use, what would work for us in animation, how to pare down that big, sprawling mythos Kirby did over five books into a half-hour adventure cartoon. We had to come up with a couple of springboards of what to do with the character, and then the “Apokalips Now” storyline just came full-blown into my  head one day.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 56

As the episode was uniquely concieved in almost the exact form that made it to the screen – Superman vs Darkseid with the fate of the world in the balance – there weren’t many issues with the story until the team got to the ending.

My original ending was a little more oblique. Turpin was still going to deft Darkseid at the end and say “You guys can’t have this planet, we’d rather die first.” At that point, Darkseid was just going to go “I really want this planet, I don’t want to just destroy it, so you win.” And everbody realised that was just too anticlimactic… I had thought of the idea of the New Gods as the cavalry at the last second and having that as the reason Darkseid gives up, but I rejected it myself because I thought it was too easy.

B. Timm, ibid.

However, even though Darkseid doesn’t win, the producers came up with a method for Darkseid’s loss to be even more devestating to Superman than it was for Darkseid. In this case, Darkseid takes his frustrations out on a member of Suerpman’s regular supporting cast, which for a show that aired on Saturday mornings, was a drastic step.

While we were talking about (the Anti-Life Equation), I jumped ahead to the end of the story and went, “You know what? Wheat he’s got to do is after Superman has defeated him, Darkseid has got to kill someone who is very close to Superman just out of pure spite… I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was doing was channelling the end of the Galactus trilogy… but the minute I said that, Paul said “Yeah, that’s the way to go. So who’s he going to kill?”

B. Timm, Modern Masters, page 57

Amongst the potential killing-off candiates were:

  • Ma and Pa Kent (rejected by DC, and Timm thinks that was a good thing as it would be “just wrong.” It’s something I agree with – it’s a great way to contrast Superman and Batman)
  • Lois and Jimmy (obviously not possible)
  • Professor Hamilton (no one on the staff liked him to begin with, and they were worried the viewer would actually be happy if Darkseid killed him off. It’s a good thing, as Hamilton got a better character arc in JLU as a result)

So it came down to Dan Turpin – as Timm notes, the similarity of killing Turpin, who was visually modelled after Kirby, shortly after Kirby’s death was appropriate, and Turpin’s funeral is actually a close match for that of Kirby’s.

Thoughts on the Episode:

This is an episode that’s actually a neat trick from a narrative point of view, as the first part of the episode feels much like a typical character introduction episode for Orion, in which we’re given his background, find out his capabilities, and then Superman and Orion presumably team up to save Metropolis. Only this time, things don’t go according to plan in any way, as Darkseid’s initial plan works, putting the fate of the entire planet for the first time in DCAU history.

One of the more obvious ongoing themes in these reviews is that the more an episode contrasts its main characters with others, the better it works. That’s the case in Justice League, but as Bruce Timm explains,

(Superman) is normally a character who is optimistic and brighter, and you put him up against a character like Darkseid who pushes his buttons and brings out the worst in him, then it’s much more dramatically effective.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 56

The contrast here is twofold – first, with Orion, and then against Darkseid and his minions. As noted, the first half of the story plays out like as a fairly standard character introduction for Orion – if you cut out the final scenes involving the power plant explosion, it’s almost identical, structurally, to episodes like “In Brightest Day.” However, after it looks as though Superman has won another skirmish against one of Darkseid’s minions, the ante is raised through the roof, as part one ends with Superman and Turpin staring into the glare of a nuclear explosion in the distance.

The second half has a common DC Universe signal that something really, really bad is about to happen, specifically that the skies are as red as blood throughout, but beyond that, the second half has a great ominous feel throughout; even if you don’t know that there’s going to be a death at the end, the entire thing just feels as though something bad potentially could happen at any moment.

Although Orion is really only featured in the first part of the story, he does get established as someone who is fated by destiny to battle his own father to the death in order to save his adopted planet. Although the paternal aspect isn’t there with Superman, the idea of a hero saving his adopted world from a threat from his original does get repeated in the Superman mythos quite often, and we’ll see that later with the debut of the evil Kryptonians.

Although Orion’s design is quite “busy”, he comes across well in animated form, and is a much-needed martial counterpart to Superman’s outlook. It’s as though Superman is being galvanized into something bigger through these two episodes, taking parts of Orion’s approach to fighting Darkseid while maintaining his own inherent Superman…ness. Plus, in any other episode the length explanation of the history of the warring planets would be the standout moment; it’s a really good sequence, reminiscent of later flashbacks such as the Amazons / Hades story from Paradise Lost.

This is also a really effective blending of the animated / comic version of Superman with the Christopher Reeve movie incarnation. If you look at the Donner Superman films, Superman simply doesn’t go around getting into the knock-down drag-out battles that this version specalises in (I know this was a common complaint about Superman Returns, but those first two movies only have one really good fight, against Zod and friends in Metropolis). The scene where Superman vents the atomic fire by drilling relief holes is very reminiscent of something Reeve’s Superman would do; he’s dealing with an evil plot, granted, but he’s really just trying to save lives. As is pointed out in the commetnary, the initial run of episodes largely featured Superman going after a criminal with a gimmick, in the style of Batman or the George Reeves Superman; this is something markedly different.

Although I don’t really agree with the idea that Superman hadn’t “distinguished itself” to this point that is expressed on the commentary track, this episode is obviously of a different calibre than just about any other that came before it because of just how much drama is packed in. The creators on the commetnary track say that this type of episode became commonplace thanks to Justice League, but in a more basic storytelling time, having this level of action (and violence – Superman pulls off some nasty, nasty tricks here) and scale makes this stand out. It really does seem that it’s a genuine, ongoing military conflict as opposed to a simple comic book battle.

The famous point of this story is the final act. Superman bound before Darkseid, and only saved by quick thinking by Turpin, followed by an abbreviated rematch with Kalibak, and then the entirety of the New Genesis forces pouring through three giant boom tubes to actually cause Darkseid to back off.  Darkseid killing Turpin is a perfect shot to the viewer’s guts; it looks as though he’s first taking a parting shot at Superman, only for his Onega beams to curve around Superman and vaporize Turpin on the spot, followed by the shocked reaction of Maggie Sawyer. The best part of it is that it’s seemingly so effortless for Darkseid – and the fact that he then flees, leaving Superman to vent his frustrations on the leftover war machine. In retrospect, this is only about parts three and four of the longer Darkseid saga in the DCAU, and even though Darkseid loses the fact that he actually draws blood ensures that the stakes have been permanently raised.

Grade: A. The animation may be a tad spotty at times (it’s not as great as in, say, World’s Finest), but the emotional impact is off the charts, and wouldn’t be matched until “Legacy”

Random Thoughts:

  • The scene with Superman being attacked on the mountain by Darkseid is drawn from the New Testament, where Jesus is tempted by the Devil. Darkseid’s belief that Superman would join him would be picked up later….
  • The scenes in the Apokolips flashback resemble Samurai Jack as much as they do classical Kirby artwork.
  • To this day I’m not sure why they added the plot device communicator, since it’s quickly rendered useless. I suppose it’s to avoid any questions of why Superman didn’t try and get help when it became apparent he was outgunned.
  • It astonishingly goes unmentioned in the commentary track, but the Superman / Parademon fight occurs in front of the Hall of Justice.
  • The level of in-jokes takes a step up in this episode; the air base in part one is named for legendary inker Joe Sinnott, while the cops that Turpin yells at in part two while battling the Parademons are named for the inkers of Kirby’s New Gods run.
  • Also, amongst the mourners at the funeral are artist Alex Ross and one of the rare Kirby creations not to be utilised in the DCAU, Kamandi (I can’t find him, but I’ll take their word for it), along with the usual suspects in the creative team.
  • OBVIOUS CONTINUITY ERROR ALERT: Forager (red guy with shield, bottom right of the New Gods image) shows up as part of the New Genesis army… except as later seen in “Twilight”, he shouldn’t have met the New Gods yet. Whoops… then again, this was about six years prior to that episode’s conception.
  • I don’t know if it was intentionally framed like this, but it looks as though there’s a blank space next to Lois at Turpin’s funeral – I always read it that she was saving it for Clark, but he didn’t show up.

Line of the Episode: “In the end, it didn’t take a super man… just a brave one.”

Next Side Story: The next episode in the Darkseid arc, and Supergirl’s debut, in “Little Girl Lost”

Next Justice League: Metamorphosis, which… lacks… the emotional impact of this one.

Weekend stuff: I don’t know, either I get Metamorphosis done early or I indulge myself with a look at Batman and the Outsiders.

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  1. Citizen Scribbler
    May 19, 2010 at 12:08 am

    The following from Wikipedia is probably the reason for the empty space by Lois:

    “‘Apokolips…Now! Part II’ was later altered from its original airing on 7 February 1998. Originally the Dan Turpin funeral at the episode’s end was a true homage to late New Gods creator Jack Kirby and featured several of his comic creations as attendees to the funeral including Nick Fury, Fantastic Four, Big Barda, Scott Free, Orion and others, alongside Kirby’s friends and fans Mark Evanier, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alex Ross, his father Norman Ross and Stan Lee. These characters and persons were later removed and the scene pacing was re-edited for subsequent airings and its DVD release on Superman: TAS Volume 3 Disc 3. The original sketches for this scene can be found at Michael Eury’s book The Krypton Companion book published by TwoMorrow’s Publishing (ISBN 1-893905-61-6). Neither DC nor Warner ever commented on the decision to alter this particular scene, but copyright issues regarding the use of the likenesses of Marvel Comics characters might justify the deletion.”

    Hope you find that helpful. I’m really enjoying reading through all these- thanks for writing them!

    -Citizen Scribbler

  1. November 13, 2009 at 7:44 pm
  2. November 14, 2009 at 1:32 pm

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